OSEA Safety Blog

Silica Standards

Friday, August 19, 2016 Gregory Santo

Silica, more specifically crystalline silica is a basic component of soil, sand, granite, and many other minerals. It is found in brick, stone, concrete and many other building materials.

Quartz is the most common form of crystalline silica. Cristobalite and tridymite are two other forms of crystalline silica. All three forms may become respirable size particles when workers chip, cut, drill, or grind objects that contain crystalline silica, and contribute to occupational health disease known as silicosis.

Silicosis happens when either prolonged exposure over a 15-20+ year working career can allow chronic or classic silicosis to develop, or accelerated or acute silicosis, can happen from a single high dose event, and is almost always fatal within a few months to a year. Both diseases are debilitating, and can contribute to a poor quality of life, and significantly shorten life spans.

OSHA recently issued a revised standard for crystalline silica that:
  • Reduces the permissible exposure limit (PEL) for respirable crystalline silica to 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air (50 μg/m3), averaged over an 8-hour shift.
  • Requires employers to: use engineering controls (such as water or ventilation) to limit worker exposure to the PEL; provide respirators when engineering controls cannot adequately limit exposure; limit worker access to high exposure areas; develop a written exposure control plan, offer medical exams to highly exposed workers, and train workers on silica risks and how to limit exposures.
  • Provides medical exams to monitor highly exposed workers and gives them information about their lung health.
  • Provides flexibility to help employers — especially small businesses — protect workers from silica exposure.
  • The new standard will start to be phased in beginning in June of 2018.
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